What does it take to keep one of the military’s top four-legged assets, mission and deployment ready?
If the first thing that comes to mind is training, that’s correct; however, that’s only a part of the equation. Military working dogs have round-the-clock, consistent schedules and appointments to maintain their readiness.
“The dogs’ missions are to deploy and find bombs,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 633rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer. “Without a consistent schedule, strict diet, dedicated handler and frequent training scenarios, the dog can become complacent and decline in performance.”
Every day begins bright and early for both handlers and MWDs here.
Every morning, handlers are tasked with checking their dog from nose to tail for any abnormalities that could’ve happened throughout the night.
“The best preventative [actions] are the daily, thorough physical examination that the MWD handler performs on his/her working dog,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jessica Rolley, Joint Base Langley-Eustis veterinarian. “This allows the handler to identify a problem at the beginning stages and initiate contact with the veterinary team right away. Immediate intervention helps to increase the possibility of a quick recovery.”
After their morning meal, the dogs’ kennels are cleaned and they are taken out for the specific training they have scheduled for the day. This consists of obedience training, detection or patrol work.
Since staying mission-ready is the biggest goal for the dogs and handlers, they spend most of their day in training.
“The relationship between the working dog and the handler is critical to mission success in so many ways,” Rolley said.
Handlers bond with their dogs throughout the day. According to Pontello, showing love to the dog is beneficial to dog-to-handler relationships and benefits the mission.
“Love the dog and the dog will love you back,” Pontello said.
Veterinary care is also an important aspect of maintaining mission readiness. MWD care is provided by the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps officers and 68T animal care specialists.
“The MWDs are seen on a semi-annual basis for wellness measures,” Rolley said. “Core vaccinations are kept up-to-date. Bloodwork, urinalysis, fecal examinations and dental prophylaxis/cleanings are performed annually.”
Just as service members have sick call for unexpected illness, the dogs are also given sick call, imaging and surgical services.
To keep their weight managed, the dogs must weigh in at least 12 times a year. The handlers adjust their food intake depending on how their weight fluctuates, how active each dog is and ultimately what the vet suggests.
At the end of their long training day, the dogs are put back in their kennels to rest and have their dinner.
Night patrols on duty check up on the dogs every four hours to ensure the dogs are safe and their kennels are clean.
According to Pontello, this schedule gives each dog the ultimate advantage of staying fit, mission-ready and trained up on all avenues to deploy on a moment’s notice should they be called to action.